This highly emotional WW2 drama tells the true story of a group of young Jewish children who were left to fend for themselves when they were escaping to Switzerland and safe haven. The journey started in Paris for Fanny and her two sisters in 1943 when after their father was arrested by the Nazis, their mother took them to a country Boarding School in France’s neutral zone which was already playing host to several other Jewish children. However, as the Nazi invasion spreads and gets closer, all the school pupils are then smuggled to another institution just over the Italian border, and just in the nick of time.
Sadly they are there for only a very short time when they hear the news that Mussolini has been arrested, and that the Nazis are starting to take over, so the school’s leader Madame Forman (a very impressive Cécile De France) knows its time for them all to up and move yet again. She forges false papers and then gives all the children an anglicized name and drills them in fake family backstories before taking them to catch the train to Switzerland. They almost fail at the very start, but Madame Forman creates a rather dramatic diversion for the kids to board undetected.
They are now in the care of teenage Elie (Victor Meutelet) but when he panics and deserts them at the first sign of real trouble, 13 year old Fanny (Léonie Souchaud) is now in charge of getting them to Switzerland and safety, and with the war’s constantly changing scenario, this is certainly not going to be easy for one so young.
The movie, co-written and directed by Lola Doillon, was inspired by an autobiographical book by Fanny Ben Ami (still alive and well today) and is a marvelous account of the horrors of war seen through the eyes of children. Doillon’s very young cast, many of them non-professionals give such natural and convincing performances which greatly adds to whole emotional tenor of the story. The tension through the whole piece is very real indeed, so much so that it is a real joy to see the kids snatch an odd moment of playtime, when for just a minute or two, they are allowed to forget the danger that they could easily be in.
As time marches on, it is more crucial than ever that true stories like this are still told, especially when the people involved are still here to bear witness.